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Top Secret 21

Janet Evanovich's latest Stephanie Plum, "Top Secret 21" was actually pretty good. A deadly Russian assassin is after Ranger, and manages to infiltrate Rangeman and set off a dangerous amount of polonium. Ranger enlists Stephanie's help in finding him, using her to question Russian vodka salesmen. There were some funny moments involving a pack of roving Chihuahuas, a Porsche that gets blown up, and Grandma seeing Ranger naked.

Much like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe's love story captivated the world and burned so hot that they couldn't stay together. C. David Heymann (who passed away a few years ago) examines their lives in "Joe And Marilyn: Legends in Love". When you look at how Joe reacted to her untimely death it's easy to see how much he loved her, and how much he regretted their parting. Supposedly they were planning on getting remarried before she died. I don't know how true that is, but it's all the more tragic that she didn't get that chance at happiness. Joe never married again after Marilyn, and left roses on her grave for 20 years after she died. His last words were about getting to see her again. So very sad.

Linda Fairstein's latest Alex Cooper novel, "Terminal City", takes place mostly in Grand Central Station. I've never seen it, but it must be massive and apparently has a whole city underneath it full of homeless people. In this one, the President is getting ready to make a train stop at Grand Central when a body of a young lady turns up at the Waldorf Plaza. She has mysterious train tracks carved into her thighs. Another body with the same markings turns up near the train tracks a few days later, and then a third body inside the terminal. Cooper, Mercer, and Chapman discover who the killer is, but now they have to find him and stop him before he kills again. As usual, it was pretty tense. I enjoyed it, although Cooper and Chapman's "flirtation" was a bit on the cruel side for me. It always is, it just rings so false to me. At one point in regards to her ballet dancing, Mike tells her that if she spent more time on her back and less on her toes she'd be a much more interesting woman. I would deck a guy if he said that to me, dating or not. Banter like that doesn't seem flirtatious or fun, just mean.

Chris Bohjalian's latest, "Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands" was so heart breakingly sad. Emily is a teenaged girl living with her alcoholic parents in Vermont. Her parents work at the nuclear power plant, and one day while she's at school the sirens go off. Everyone is evacuated, and Emily learns there was a meltdown at the plant and her parents are dead. Not only that, but everyone in the media is blaming them, specifically her dad, for most likely being drunk on the job even though there's no proof of that. Emily takes off and ends up on the streets, going to shelters, prostituting herself, living under a different name, until she finds a 9 year old boy named Cameron, who is running away from an abusive foster home. Emily tries to take care of him as best she can, but when Cameron gets very ill Emily is forced to take him to a hospital and run so they don't discover who she is. With nowhere left to go, she returns to the Evacuation Zone and sneaks past the guards to live in her family's old home. She is very ill with radiation poisoning when she is finally rescued. It was awful how quickly people jumped to conclusions and how they wanted to place blame not only on Emily's dad but on *Emily*, which is just so wrong and speaks volumes to how twisted our culture has become.

I'm a bigger R.J. fan then I used to be, especially after reading his book "Pieces of My Heart" a few years back, and of course he was superb on "Two and a Half Men". In this fun book R.J. takes us on a trip down his memory lane. It was light and cheerful, happy memories of wonderful places and times that unfortunately don't exist anymore. The Golden Age of Hollywood was indeed a special time, and R.J. was lucky enough to be there for the parties and the people, and we're lucky enough to still have him around to share it with us.

"The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion was super cute and utterly charming, it completely won me over by the first page. Don Tillman is a professor of genetics and obviously has some form of Asperger's, even though he hasn't been diagnosed as such. If you watch "Big Bang Theory", think Sheldon. Don is very much like Sheldon, but he wants a female companion and thus begins what he calls The Wife Project. In order to weed out unsuitable candidates, he devises a 16 page questionnaire. His friends, Gene and Claudia, are helping him out, giving him advice and tips. Gene sends Rosie to him one day, and after a few minutes into their first date, it becomes clear to Don that Rosie is completely unsuitable for a long term companion, despite the fact that he finds her very attractive and enjoys being in her company. Rosie needs help, though. She would like to find her biological father, and Don agrees to help her collect DNA samples from the likely candidates and test them. It was such a sweet story, I really enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Sue Monk Kidd's "The Invention of Wings" was a heartbreaking story loosely based on the lives of Sarah and Angelina Grimké. In the early 1800s, Sarah lived in Charleston, South Carolina, the daughter of a prominent judge who owned a plantation. The judge always encouraged her to think for herself, but when Sarah refuses the birthday gift of a slave named Hetty and declares her intent to become a lawyer someday like her father, she has gone too far. Defiant, she teaches Hetty how to read and when they are caught they are both punished. Sarah's youngest sister, Angelina, follows in her footsteps, becoming an outspoken critic of slavery. Sarah eventually moves to Philadelphia and becomes a Quaker, and Angelina follows her. Both women become abolitionists and supporters of women's rights. It's amazing to think how awful things must have been back then. Kidd does a nice job of capturing a moment in time and making us care about these people.

Supposedly the next to the last Pretty Little Liars book (I've heard that one before) Sara Shepard's "Toxic" finds the girls' luck seemingly turned 180 degrees: Spencer starts an anti-bullying blog and gets a book deal; a prominent wealthy art dealer buys one of Aria's paintings, starting a firestorm of interest in her with shows and interviews for blogs; Hanna is offered the starring role in a movie based on the girls' lives. Poor Emily, though. Her girlfriend, Jordan, is murdered in prison and she knows Ali is behind it. Ali has cultivated a group of admirers known as Ali Cats, who do her bidding. The girls find a pool house they think Ali might be hiding out in and set up surveillance cameras, hoping to catch her. Of course Ali is too smart for that. The girls rush into the house, finding blood everywhere. They know Ali has killed somebody, so they call in an anonymous tip to the police. The next day, cops swarm them, demanding to know where Ali's body is. Turns out it was *her* blood all over the pool house, and so are the girls' fingerprints. Looks like Ali set them up to take the fall for her murder! It'll be interesting to see how it all ends, but I will miss this series. It's just been so much fun.

Lois Duncan mentioned her book "Don't Look Behind You" in the book about her daughter's murder. The hitman in this one was named Mike Vamp, and apparently one of the suspects in her daughter's murder was known as Vamp, too. This book had been written but not yet published, I think, when her daughter was killed. Very creepy. The book itself was good (how I missed reading Duncan as a teen, I don't know. I guess because I read V.C. Andrews at 11 and Stephen King at 13, I missed the whole teen genre). April's dad has been secretly working for the FBI and now his life is in danger. The whole family has to go into witness protection, which is really awful. April misses her perfect life back home with her friends, her tennis, and her gorgeous boyfriend. She ends up putting the whole family at risk when she tries to contact him.

I'm such a big fan of Sara Shepard's teen books, and this one was great too. The start of a new series about a group of wealthy diamond heiresses who are being killed off one by one. There is something so addicting about her books. They're just fun and dishy. Anyway, the Saybrook family seems to be both blessed and cursed. When the most stable Saybrook, Poppy, is flung from her office window, the rest of the girls are determined to find out who did it. Shepard lays plenty of red herrings and twists along the way, pretty much guaranteeing  I'll never figure it out before the end and I'll be amazed :) I'm easily dazzled.

Robert Galbraith's latest Cormoran Strike novel, "The Silkworm", was very good. Cormoran is still reaping the benefits of his success in solving the Lula Landry case, and decides to be a bit reckless and take a case that doesn't pay because it's interesting. Owen Quine, a writer of marginal success, has gone missing. His wife doesn't want to involve the police because Owen has taken off before, only to be found with a girlfriend. Strike goes digging and discovers Owen has written a very nasty book, barely bothering to disguise the people he's slandering. The book is completely unpublishable, and his publishing house has put a lid on it for fear of being sued, which of course means everyone and their brother has read it. When Strike does find Owen's body, he's horrified to learn that he died in the same manner as he described in his last manuscript. The police arrest his wife, but Strike is convinced she didn't do it.

Kerry Hudson's debut novel, "Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma" was heartbreaking in its unflinching portrayal of poverty in Scotland. Janie is born to a single mom barely out of her teens. With no one to take her in, Ma goes on government assistance and stays there all of Janie's childhood. She hooks up with bad guys, including the infamous titular Tony Hogan, and has another daughter, Tiny. Janie is used to being poor, never having enough food, clothes, being made fun of at school. It was very sad, how the circle of poverty just never lets up. As soon as the girls are old enough to have sex they get pregnant and it all starts over again. I have hope for Janie, though. It ended on an upbeat note.

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